This chapter examines Penelope Fitzgerald’s career as a writer of biography. Between 1975 and 1984, Fitzgerald published three group biographies – Edward Burne-Jones, The Knox Brothers, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends – and she began, but eventually gave up, a life of the novelist L. P. Hartley. She also reviewed and wrote introductions for numerous writers’ lives, ranging from canonical figures such as S. T. Coleridge, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf to less well-remembered novelists, poets and artists such as Margaret Oliphant, John Lehmann and C. R. Ashbee. The chapter shows how Fitzgerald’s biographies (and especially The Knox Brothers) provide important clues to the distinctive sensibility of her novels. Craftsmanship, skill and labour are rated far above hollow intellectualism or politicking. Fascination with the inner life is handled with restraint, yet underwrites the most poignant moments of characterization. Sorrow at love’s futility in the face of time and fate is treated as comedy, ‘for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?’
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